Sunday, 6 December 2015

food glorious food

On Sundays I go to my dad's to cook for him and his partner, and sometimes my elder sister. My sister doesn't like pasta, which can be problematic as many of my favourite dishes are pasta based (we are actually related and have the noses to prove it). She can manage lasagna as the pasta is minimal, but I decided to try a pasta-free lasagna anyway. No pictures; I can’t quite bring myself to take pics of my food and, entirely coincidentally, I don’t really do presentation.

I made the main parts last night, for simplicity and because my dad’s cooker sucks. A kilo of lean mince went into the pan; even with lean mince there is more than enough fat to cook it and whatever veg you’re going to chuck in. Cooked until thoroughly browned, then crumbled in a beef Oxo stock cube to amp up the beefiness. Is that cheating? Meh, who cares? Enough fat has drained from the meat the cook this in, so stir it for a couple of minutes then add the magic. A good shake of Henderson’s Relish - or, if you are in some ore benighted part of the world, Worcestershire or soy sauce will do, I guess - and a teaspoon of Marmite or other yeast extract. I recently heard a chef opine (possibly on the Gastropod podcast?) that the more different sources of umami in this kind of meat dish the better.

I let this cook in for a little while. It helps if you let it begin to dry out and the meat to catch slightly on the bottom of the pan. Trust me. Oh, and a good grind of black pepper. No, a bit more than that. Mmm, smells good. I poured in a good slug of red wine. What, you want measurements? Isn’t ‘a good slug’ enough? Look, I would measure what was left but, well, I can’t. I won’t go into details. Maybe 150 ml or so. Turn the heat down a bit and cook that baby off. Pour a glass of wine. Nice.

Time for the garlic. I crushed and chopped four fat cloves and threw them in. No, one more big un. I’ve heard the expression “too much garlic” but, while I understand the individual words, that seems a nonsense sentiment, like “Trevor sounds purple” or “grant mongooses jurisprudence”. Gibberish.

Aaaaanyway. Stir that in for a couple of minutes then i add a large coarsely chopped brown onion, and stir that until it begins to become translucent (I really wanted to write “translucentalise” but I’m pretty certain that isn’t a word, although I really feel it should be. We should start a campaign). Good lord, can you smell how good this is? Time for the last umami - about 300g of chopped mushrooms. Keep cooking that in, stirring it now and then until the mushrooms are cooked, and I think you can tell when that is.

Time for the herbs and spices. A good healthy heap of oregano (you’re asking for measurements again, aren’t you? Erm, about a palm full) and a large pinch of basil, along with a good dollop of paprika. Now, I really, really like paprika, so shoved in about the same amount as the oregano, and I’m writing this recipe. You can stir this in now, or you can add a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes first, which I think makes the whole thing easier. Get it mixed up. Probably a bit runny now, so time to chuck some tomato puree in. What? Again with the measurements! idunno, about a third of a tube?  Stir it in, pop the lid on and cook for a while, making sure it doesn’t burn. Then turn it off and leave it. Another advantage to making it the day before is that, in my most humble opinion, any mince dish improves with being left to sit overnight. And, at this time of year, as there is no heating in my kitchen other than the stove, I can leave it covered and it’s as good as putting it in the fridge.

So, today at my dad’s I have the parts and it’s just a case of constructing the lasagna. I chuck the bolognese into a pan to heat through and slice three large courgettes in the mandolin (why does my non-cooking father own a mandolin and I don’t…?) Grind some salt on the slices and into a hot oven. Into a smaller pan goes the simple bechamel sauce I also made, to slowly heat through. Simple? Needs more. I dollop about half a tub of mascarpone to melt into it and maybe a third of the 200g of strong cheddar I grated. Screw it; all the mascarpone.

In about ten minutes the courgette is sufficiently cooked, so I whip it out and layer the bolognese, bechamel and courgette slices a couple of times each and scatter the remainder of the cheddar on top, and chuck it back in the oven. Did I mention my dad’s oven sucks? Maybe 15 minutes, maybe 20, maybe 30. I should keep an eye on it. Goddamn, it smells good,

OK, 20 minutes, that’s done. The courgette is slightly al dente but a little slippery so, despite my best (actually minimal) efforts the layers slop onto the plates (note my earlier comment about a lack of pictures), but I must say (with all humility) it tastes freaking divine. It’s a pretty big lasagna for four people but I went for a run earlier so eat twice as much as anyone else.

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